The Essential Structure of Teaching Method Descriptions

The Essential Structure of Teaching Method Descriptions

Susanne Neumann (University of Vienna, Austria), Michael Derntl (University of Vienna, Austria) and Petra Oberhuemer (University of Vienna, Austria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-144-7.ch003
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This chapter presents a study regarding the construction and evaluation of a description template that captures teaching methods. Different formats for describing teaching methods such as pattern catalogues or pedagogic scenario collections exist. The goal of this work was to derive the essence of teaching method descriptions based on the results of other projects, and to evaluate the so obtained description template. The created template underwent a two-phase evaluation. During the first evaluation phase, 21 instructors described a teaching method from their context using the template and rated the template according to criteria for good descriptions. This phase showed that authors of teaching methods regarded the template as complete and thought that their method was well represented. Instructors disagreed whether the elements contained in the template were distinct. During the second evaluation phase, 33 instructors read selected teaching methods provided during the first evaluation phase. The results of the second phase showed that readers of teaching methods do not necessarily feel confident about implementing the described teaching method, which was thought of as “well described” by the teaching method’s author. Readers reported that they lacked an example implementation of the teaching method. Suggestions for adjusting the template were made based on the evaluators’ feedback including renaming and restructuring of elements. We conclude that a generic teaching method should always be accompanied by an example unit of learning, which implements this teaching method. Further research needs to be performed regarding the factors that enhance teaching method adoption and exchange outside the documentation of methods.
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The Essential Structure Of Teaching Method Descriptions

The use of manifold methods to foster learning has been propagated extensively (e.g., Flechsig, 1996). The questions are how instructors obtain knowledge about different methods of teaching, and how do instructors, who use different teaching methods, capture the essence of their method? How should a teaching method be presented to instructors, who wish to find out about and adopt teaching methods? A teaching method is defined as a learning outcome oriented set of activities to be performed by learners and learning supporters.

A teaching method does not exist independently of a specific situation, in which it is used. There is an application context, where the teaching method is used to teach a specific subject, to achieve specific learning outcomes within a specific learning environment. Therefore, a distinction is made between the teaching method as defined above, and the actual implementation of one or more teaching methods, called the unit of learning. A unit of learning is defined as a contextualized, self-contained unit of education or training that consists of at least one teaching method and associated content (adapted from Olivier & Tattersall, 2005).

In order to distribute and to enable reuse of teaching methods that have worked, they need to be documented. Different formats for capturing teaching methods exist such as patterns, case studies, video case studies, controlled vocabularies, concept maps, and flow diagrams among others (Falconer, Beetham, Oliver, Lockyer & Littlejohn, 2007). Each type of representation requires specific elements. For instance, a pattern representation of a teaching method would typically require a verbal description of the teaching method in terms of the problem being faced, the context of the problem, the solution to the problem, as well as an evaluation (Voigt & Swatman, 2006). A pattern format would thus not be prescriptive (offering precise steps to be taken) about the teaching method but would provide an abstracted, problem-oriented presentation of a teaching method. Other formats would place different emphases including prescriptive steps of action to be taken as part of the teaching method, the teaching method’s roots in educational or learning theory, or its value in certain subjects to foster understanding of typical concepts and processes.

For this chapter, we did not favor a particular form of representation such as patterns or case studies. Instead of starting from predefined description formats, we oriented our work on the steps a learning designer would take when searching for, selecting, and adopting new teaching methods. According to the Mod4L project (Falconer et al., 2007), learning designers require different information during the different phases of teaching method selection and adaptation. Thus, our focus was to identify descriptors that allow instructors to have meaningful information available when browsing, choosing, developing, and implementing teaching methods.

Of the many competing formats for documenting teaching methods, none has reached wide acceptance (compare e.g. Falconer & Littlejohn, 2007). Therefore, the goal of the work presented in this chapter was to integrate the findings from other projects that have already investigated the documentation of teaching methods. This integration was intended to create a format for describing teaching methods that captures the essence of a method and places the instructor in a position to select and apply this teaching method in his or her own teaching context.

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